My grandpa, Adolph Bachman, was much beloved, and is much missed by me. I remember t00-26 years ago I was in my second year of law school, back at the apartment, when I heard the message my mom left informing me of his death. Here is what mom had to say today:
Today, April 10, brought a special memory back to me. 26 years ago, my Dad died. You may remember that he LOVED Martins and made houses for them. He often donated them to nursing homes and others. When my mom, my sister and I were in the funeral home arranging for his funeral, the Administrator of the Lennox nursing home came in to tell us a special story. He said that when Daddy gave him the Martin house, he instructed him to have it cleaned and ready to put up on April 10 as that’s the day the Martins will return. He looked out and sure enough, the Martins were coming back. Then he heard on the radio that our Dad died that same day and he saw that we were at the funeral home and he came to tell us that story. We were so thrilled. It made the day happier. When the funeral director asked us what kind of flowers we wanted for his coffin, we looked at each other and said “He wasn’t a flower person. What shall we do?” The director said another choice could be wheat. Our hearts were again happy. He was definitely a wheat person. So his coffin and his grave had wheat for the birds to enjoy.
As a very young programmer, at my second job at the Soo Line railroad, it was my privilege to cross paths with The Old Coders. These men were giants who walked the earth in the infancy of the Computer Age. The railroad, and thousands of other companies, ran on the code they wrote using early computers of extremely low capacity–by today’s standards–making up for the hardware shortcomings through encyclopedic knowledge of the IBM System/370 architecture and tight, efficient, code.
After writing a bit of COBOL at the railroad, I was promoted to a position as a systems programmer, supporting the computer terminal management software, CICS. I wrote programs in assembly language (formally known as IBM Basic Assembly Language–BAL), and loved it so much that after I, perhaps foolishly, left the Soo Line, it would be 20 years or more before I found a job nearly as enjoyable.
The manager of systems programming at the Soo Line was Sherman Larson. A modest man who’s unassuming manner concealed his true nature as one of those giants. His other notable quality was that on the chalkboard in his office was always written the date of his next scheduled vacation to Las Vegas with his lovely wife, Naomi. I will let one anecdote suffice for now:
I was writing an assembler program, and was perhaps asking Sherm a question about some other matter. He must have noticed I had a loop where I was subtracting one from a counter on each iteration. He commented “If you use a BCTR with zero as a parameter, it takes less machine cycles.” BCTR was the name of the Branch on CounT, Register instruction. I stood in awe as I realized that he knew the number of machine clocks each assembler instruction took. He also had wonderful quality that whenever I exclaimed that some programming task simply could not be done, he would patiently show me how it could be done.
When I install the latest 20 gigabyte version of Microsoft Windows, needing ever faster hardware to lumber along at the same speed as the previous release did on lesser hardware, I think of the Old Coders and how they are a race almost extinct. And I think with pride how, 30 years later, I am perhaps a lesser version of Old Coder myself.
The past week has brought a grim harvest. While attending the funeral service of a childhood neighbor, Kathy Krug, my ex-mother in law, Lucille Haugen was struggling in her final illness. She died today. I don’t say this lightly, but I believe her to have been a saint. Unfailingly kind, loving, generous, and a wonderful cook. May the Lord bless her, keep her, make his face shine upon her, be gracious unto her, and bring her peace.
After two weeks and many hours of carefully building, troubleshooting, and fine tuning I got my Engine running off of compressed air. I didn’t really expect it to run at all, let alone so fast and smooth so I am quite thrilled.
When I worked at the Soo Line railroad in the early 1980s, programmers would occasionally browse the government-provided commodity master file for amusing entries. The one I recall was ‘Salted Sea-Dog skins, green’. Those more knowledgable about railroad operations explained to me that ‘green’ meant unpickled or uncured.